Brown trying not to think of a third title
Antron Brown has a 150-point lead in the NHRA Top Fuel championship, but is going to avoid thinking of the prospects of a third title in five years until the job is done, as Anne Proffit reports.
Racers have to be tough to win championships. Putting together a season-long accumulation of pole positions, victories and high points-producing finishes is not for the weak. But that doesn’t mean a champion can’t be imbued with kindness, generosity of spirit and a love of life.
Take, for instance, Antron Brown, who has a heady lead in NHRA’s Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship. The reigning Top Fuel champion scored four wins in the regular 18-race season this year, and headed the points going into the Countdown (which is basically the NHRA’s equivalent of NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup).
Remarkably, with four of these six playoff races now done, Brown has added three more victories. He beat his current closest opponent, Doug Kalitta, at the first Countdown race at Charlotte, then took his 60th career NHRA win (16 of which were scored on Pro Stock Motorcycles) in the cold of Reading, PA. two weeks later.
Last weekend, the New Jersey native conquered Texas Motorplex for the second time in his Top Fuel career. He set the qualifying track record on Friday night in the NHRA FallNationals and marched through his eliminations on Sunday, defeating Chris Karamasines, Kalitta, and J.R. Todd to reach the finals for the fifth time in the last seven races, and for the 11th time in 2016. Edging Steve Torrence in a close final round 3.744-3.750 was enough to earn Brown his 45th Top Fuel victory and his seventh of the season.
On this form, Brown looks unstoppable with just two events to go – Las Vegas and Pomona. As the NHRA crews take a slight breather before heading for their traditional Halloween weekend visit to Sin City, Brown has 150 points in hand over Kalitta, is a further 22 ahead of Don Schumacher Racing teammate and 2013 champ Shawn Langdon, and has a 191-point margin over John Force Racing’s Brittany Force.
And so he has a very strong opportunity to earn his second straight NHRA Top Fuel title and third since 2012. On that first occasion, he actually clinched the crown while standing on the sidelines with bandaged hands after a fiery wreck earlier in the day. Back then he was not the fully formed racer he is today.
Brown’s learning curve has been made smoother by the DSR crew he’s had around him since his transition from two wheels to four in 2008. Ohioan Brian Corradi and 1984 Funny Car champion Mark Oswald make the tuning decisions on Brown’s 10,000-horsepower rail. As a group, they have grown, bonded and matured into a smooth-operating machine around the former track and field star.
A devout Christian, Brown describes himself last weekend as “truly blessed to be on this team with Brian, Mark and all these Matco Tools/U.S. Army boys. We work hard and it’s a team effort."
But his gratitude on Sunday extended beyond his own group on the DSR team, to include the tuners on Jack Beckman’s Funny Car. Giving credit where due, he stated: “I’ve got to give a big shout-out to Jimmy Prock, Chris Cunningham and John Medlen. After St. Louis we were a little down and they gave us the boost we needed when we stayed on afterward and tested.
“We made some things happen and it’s paying big dividends right now.
It sure is. But Brown isn’t getting cocky, despite some people’s suggestion that he already has one hand on the title. Yes he acknowledges that “the dream is coming true – it's happening one round at a time,” but he’s smart to point out that there are no easy races.
“This competition is no joke,” he says. “The only way you win now is by inches. We are going into Vegas with a little bit of a points lead, but it’s anybody’s game.”
Validating this cautionary point was his latest final round shootout with home-state hero Torrence.
“It was a tough match-up and I knew it was going to be tough," he said. "He threw down a great tree [reaction time of 0.064sec to Brown’s slightly better 0.061], they threw down a great run, we threw down a great run – that race could have gone either way.
“That’s how all of our NHRA drag races have gone all year long and we’ve been fortunate to be on the right side of it. We’re just trying to make it happen and we love it.”
Brown is tough on the strip, but definitely a soft, humane guy out of the car. While he’s evolved as a driver, he’s as personable as ever, happy to stop and chat with fans and sign autographs throughout each day at the track. He answers emails and shout-outs on Facebook and Twitter and smilingly deals with all sponsorship activity expected of him. That is particularly welcome this month as he campaigns Matco’s pink-highlighted “Tools for the Cause” dragster, supporting the Susan G. Komen charity during Breast Cancer Awareness month.
And after winning the Top Fuel title in 2012 and 2015, Brown is equally aware of what’s needed on the racing side of his job at this late stage of a championship campaign.
“Our main focus is to stay humble, keep our heads down and continue the hard work that got us here,” he remarks. “We’re still not done working.”